NFL Wire News

Steelers seek AFC North title vs. Bengals


PITTSBURGH — Not satisfied with their first playoff berth in three years, the Pittsburgh Steelers want more. It starts Sunday when a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field will give them their first AFC North Division championship since 2010.

“We have a standard here and missing the playoffs is not one of them,” said guard Ramon Foster. “We’re in the show right now, but our goal is to get the division next week.”

The Steelers won in Cincinnati in convincing fashion Dec. 7 by 42-21 and believe they can do it again at home. If so, they would have a playoff game at home the following week. That would be a far cry from the team that lost at home to Tampa Bay and at the New York Jets.

Last Sunday against Kansas City, they showed they might finally be coming around on defense to help out the NFL’s No. 1 offense. The Steelers held the Chiefs to four field goals in a 20-12 victory.

“I’m so proud of our defense and the way they stepped up against a really good offense,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “We like to consider ourselves a full team — offense, defense and special teams. The way the defense stepped up, they knew the pressure was on them facing the Chiefs offense. We knew … how good the Chiefs’ defense was. That’s a team win.”

Roethlisberger left the game in the second quarter with a possible knee injury. He returned without missing a snap and said after the game he was not hurt.

The Steelers are in the playoffs and can win the division next Sunday, but can they get anywhere in the playoffs? They would not seem to be in the same league as the Denver Broncos or New England Patriots, especially if they have to travel to one of those places to win a game. But then, their season has been full of surprises and maybe they have more left.

The Steelers set records with 361 first downs in a season (344 previously, 1995) and need 18 points in their final game to break the 1979 team record of 416.

The Steelers entered their game against the Chiefs with just 24 sacks, 27th lowest in the NFL. They revived their old days by sacking Alex Smith six times.

“I really thought we broke down their offensive line whether it was with stunts or games,” said defensive end Cam Heyward, who had 1 1/2 sacks. “I thought we mixed it up. And then when we went straight at them, I thought we won the one-on-one battles.”


–PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus – Ben Roethlisberger’s passing game was very efficient against the No. 2-ranked pass defense in the NFL. He completed 18 of 25 passes for 220 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. He was sacked just once by the team that was tied for the sixth-most sacks after 14 games. He had a 112.1 passer rating.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus – Le’Veon Bell ran 20 times for 63 yards and one of his team’s two touchdowns. As a whole, the Steelers managed only 68 yards, although Roethlisberger lost four on kneel downs. Part of the problem with them getting more yards was they were held to only 52 plays on offense.

–PASS DEFENSE: B – Although Alex Smith completed 31 of 45 passes for 311 yards and no interceptions, he also had no touchdowns and he was sacked six times and hurried into other poor throws and throw-aways. He had an 88.3 passer rating.

–RUSH DEFENSE: A – While the Chiefs did not try to run much, which was a bit of a surprise, they also could not crack the Steelers’ run defense. They had 14 runs for 39 yards — 14 of those on two runs by the quarterback. Also, in one of the pivotal moments of the game, they gave the ball to Jamaal Charles on fourth-and-inches at the Steelers 12 with 27 seconds left in the first half. Lawrence Timmons stuffed him for no gain to maintain the Steelers’ 10-6 lead at the half.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: C – Shaun Suisham connected on two short field goals and there were no returns of note either way. However, Kansas City did pull off a fake field goal in the second quarter to pick up a first down at the Steelers’ 6. However, Pittsburgh’s defense bailed out their special teams by holding them to a second field goal try that was good from 25 yards.

–COACHING: B – Mike Tomlin challenged a Kansas City reception and it stood, so he struck out there in an area where he usually excels. Other than that, he and his coaches keep pushing some right buttons, such as starting James Harrison at right outside linebacker upon his return after he missed two games with a knee injury. Harrison had his best game and had 1 1/2 sacks.

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